ORONO — Passersby need only stroll through the front doors and the “Rush Jesus” sign at the Newman Center on College Avenue in Orono to realize that this is a special place.

It has served as a venue for gatherings of Catholic students at the University of Maine since 1946 but, more importantly, it has served as a spiritual home for active Catholics and non-Catholics to learn about the beauty of the faith, become rooted in prayer, and cultivate their faith lives in the process.

It’s a community that has inspired worship, service, and generosity for decades, including a new $1.25 million anonymous donation to the “Rebuild His Church” campaign, which will fund the needed renovation of the center among other parish projects. 

“The Parish of the Resurrection of the Lord (of which the Newman Center is a part) is so grateful for this overwhelming and unexpected offering of financial support that will help many Catholics of today and tomorrow to live their faith fully and authentically,” said Fr. Kyle Doustou, pastor of the parish. “The Newman Center enables Catholics at the university and surrounding communities to participate in sacred liturgy, engage in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and put Christ at the center of our lives. That someone appreciated this truth and made this contribution is humbling.”

In recent years, the need for structural repairs and other improvements at parish buildings, particularly the Newman Center, became obvious and inspired the “Rebuild His Church” capital campaign which, to date, has raised over $2.6 million.

“With this gift, construction at the center will now be able to begin in the spring,” said Dave DiNapoli, development director for the Diocese of Portland. “The involvement and participation numbers at the center continue to rise, and these projects will allow this Catholic presence to continue to flourish for generations to come.”

Among the many improvements on the way at the center are:

·       a new multi-purpose space for meetings, ministries, and fellowship;

·       a quiet, beautiful narthex where one can transition into the presence of God;

·       separate entrances to the chapel and the main hall;

·       a chapel featuring a new sacristy, tabernacle, altar, ambo, and main crucifix;

·       a student lounge to encourage relaxation and community, including an outdoor deck extension;

·       a Marian garden with a statue of Our Lady of Wisdom; and

·       a steeple bell to ring out the joyful sound throughout the neighborhood that it is time for Mass, reminding all that the Lord is calling us to Him.

In addition, the other churches of the parish in Old Town, Bradley, and Indian Island will undergo a variety of improvements, spanning from structural repairs and painting to the repaving of parking lots.

But the driving force behind the campaign is the Newman Center, home to Our Lady of Wisdom Church and Black Bear Catholic (www.blackbearcatholic.org), Masses, Bible studies, adoration, community events, fellowship, and the enrichment of faith for people of all ages, but particularly those matriculating at the university directly across the avenue. Recent studies have shown that nearly 80 percent of young Catholics lose touch with their faith in their college years. This campaign, and this sacred place, aims to reverse that trend in its tracks.

“The positive impact of this campaign is revitalizing our students’ experiences of faith and the Church,” said DiNapoli. “It’s really a call to discipleship.”

Masses at the center are held each Sunday at 11 a.m. (also 6:15 p.m. during the school year) and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. Adoration is also held each Tuesday from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., and confessions are offered on Sundays from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Tuesdays from 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.

In addition, students can enjoy a meal for free each Wednesday at 6 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. (after the 6:15 p.m. Mass). Special meals are also offered during the school year like a Thanksgiving dinner the week before break, a brunch on Easter, and a Labor Day barbecue.

And the students’ participation in service projects has been present since the day the center opened, as the Black Bears of today offer their time and talent at thrift stores, food pantries, community suppers, Ronald McDonald House, and to special initiatives like “Meals for Mamas,” which provides food to moms and families with a newborn.

“We are shepherding the faithful during their college careers, welcoming the inquisitive seeking faith, providing social ministry outreach, and fostering a sense of living a Catholic life at home and in service to the larger community,” said Fr. Doustou. “No campaign could be more important than one that preserves the very place where that happens and ensures it exists to serve future generations.”

The campaign is still in need of support to reach its ultimate goal of $3.5 million. To learn more about the campaign, the Newman Center, and how you can help, visit www.blackbearcatholic.org/how-to-give.